September 20, 2021
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The Totalitarian Gamer

I wrote a paper on “Art, Kitsch, and the Totalitarian Gamer”. The referees hated it. I’m pretty sure I sent it to the wrong conference.

Perhaps, the correct conference does not exist. Perhaps this really is of no interest to anyone. If you have ideas, though, Email me.

The 2014 alt-right uprising against women in the game industry known as Gamergate [8; 42] foreshadowed the style and the substance of Trumpism. Notable features of Gamergate — its fondness for shadowy conspiracy mediated through online fora, its rhetoric of grievance, its propensity for interminable arguments, its recrudescence of anti-semitism and misogyny, its iconography — seem accidental and arbitrary, unrelated to anything we find in games or in game studies. To scholars of digital storytelling, Gamergate appeared to be an arbitrary anticipation of misfortune. Someone was bound to be first, and it has seemed that game developers simply had bad luck.

A careful look at 20th-century art history and criticism, and at the history of the formation of mobs and totalitarian movements, shows how these facets of Gamergate are not stylistic quirks, but that they are rooted in the totalitarian aesthetics and in long-standing intellectual movements. We shall see why Roger Ebert said that “video games can never be art,” why this was in fact a remarkable claim for Ebert to have made, and why the claim was not bigoted, essentialist, or daft. We shall see why the Gamergate mascot is a thick-lipped frog. I believe, further, that this can satisfactorily be understood through established ideological and critical concepts, and without adducing any novel terminology.

This is part 1 of a series on Art, Kitsch, and the Totalitarian Gamer.